Some Basics about Champagne

Champagne can only be called Champagne if it is made in the Champagne region of France.  It is a blend of three different grapes; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meuiner.  The method in which it is made is called Methode Champenoise.  The bubbles are what make it special and they are created in a second fermentation that happens in the bottle, it is then aged at least 15 months.

The iconic bottle has a wide bottom with a ‘punt’; a dimple that can be felt on the bottom of the bottle.  The purposes listed are as follows:

  • It is a historical remnant from the era when wine bottles were free blown using a blowpipe and pontil. This technique leaves a punt mark on the base of the bottle; by indenting the point where the pontil is attached, this scar would not scratch the table or make the bottle unstable.
  • It had the function of making the bottle less likely to topple over—a bottle designed with a flat bottom only needs a small imperfection to make it unstable—the dimple historically allowed for a larger margin of error.
  • It consolidates sediment deposits in a thick ring at the bottom of the bottle, preventing much/most of it from being poured into the glass; this may be more historical than a functional attribute, since most modern wines contain little or no sediment.[16]
  • It increases the strength of the bottle, allowing it to hold the high pressure of sparkling wine/champagne.
  • It provides a grip for riddling a bottle of sparkling wine manually in the traditional champagne production process.
  • It consumes some volume of the bottle, allowing the bottle to appear larger for the same amount of wine, which may impress the purchaser.[17]
  • Taverns had a steel pin set vertically in the bar. The empty bottle would be thrust bottom-end down onto this pin, puncturing a hole in the top of the punt, guaranteeing the bottle could not be refilled [folklore].
  • It prevents the bottle from resonating as easily, decreasing the likelihood of shattering during transportation.
  • It allows bottles to be more easily stacked end to end.[17]
  • Bottles could be stacked in cargo holds on ships without rolling around and breaking.
  • It makes the bottle easier to clean prior to filling with wine. When a stream of water is injected into the bottle and impacts the punt, it is distributed throughout the bottom of the bottle and removes residues.–Wikipedia

Champagne is more sensitive to temperature and light than most other wines. For that reason, it is typically bottled in a light-resistant, dark green glass. Champagne should be stored between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit and may be kept upright or horizontally.

The sweetness of the Champagne can be determined by terminology on the outside of the bottle.  Often more sugar has to be added to the Champagne for the second fermentation.  When the second fermentation is complete the designation is determined by the amount of sugar left in the bottle.

  • Extra Brut (less than 6 grams of residual sugar per litre)
  • Brut (less than 12 grams)
  • Extra Dry (between 12 and 17 grams)
  • Sec (between 17 and 32 grams)
  • Demi-sec (between 32 and 50 grams)
  • Doux (50 grams)

I will happily drink anything between sec and extra brut.  Sometimes the sec is too sweet and sometimes the extra brut is too dry.  My preference is an extra dry or a nice brut.

Other terms that you will need to be familiar with cuvée de prestige and non-vintage.  Cuvée de prestige is a proprietary blended wine.  A vintage year is when the producer has decided that harvest was good enough and makes the vintage from harvest from the same year.  A non-vintage is usually made from a blend of grapes from different years.  If there are years that the vintage is not ideal, a vintage still maybe made, and not labeled as such. 

Champagne should be chilled to a temperature between 40 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature can be attained by placing the bottle in a refrigerator for a couple of hours, whilst in the Champagne region we were advised to not chill the bottle in the freezer. They suggested the classic way, which is to chill a bottle of Champagne. Place the bottle in an ice-bucket, half filled with ice, half with water, for 20 minutes.

 

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2 thoughts on “Some Basics about Champagne

  1. Yay! I found the comments box! I can’t wait to learn more about Champagne; regular wine is covered very well in so many places, but I don’t know of another spot to get just in-depth Champagne info–until today! I am also following the blogs of a number of Anglophone expats and French friends in the Paris region (some are or were ASP parents; others are members of clubs here such as AWG, AAWE, WICE, AARO, etc). I have a blog, too; I’ll follow yours if you’ll follow mine! One recent post even has a photo taken in my living room by my son of our New Year’s bottle of—-Champagne—-of course! Will you be covering the various “crémants,” too?? Best wishes on your new blog! http://parishaiku.com/2015/12/

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